By Barry Mather.
It was the 16th of December 2020 when an email popped into my inbox from Lotus Australia advertising a Lotus Only Track Day (LOTD) at Bathurst.
Well, I didn’t need much arm twisting and after a short conversation with my much better half, Jess, I promptly booked a place for my 1997 Series 1 Elise!
Over the following months I had a few track days and sprints where I continued to suffer problems with the car, not a good omen for Bathurst. The problems can all be traced back to excess heat in the engine bay after I strapped a turbo onto the Honda K20 engine. While power delivery was excellent, reliability was not.
So, after the last sprint at Morgan Park where the exhaust turbine melted after 15 minutes of track time, I made the decision to remove the turbo – acknowledging it would reduce power output by about 130hp, but improve reliability.
It was a bit of a mad dash to convert to normally aspirated as well as get the rest of the car, trailer and spares package prepped for a LOTD day.
LOTD’s are run as 20-minute sessions and, depending on attendee numbers, about 40 minutes of ‘rest’ before getting back out on track, making reliability extremely important. The weeks flew by, progress was good and the week before Bathurst I managed to snag a couple of hours at Queensland Raceway for testing. The car felt good, not the kick in the pants I’m used to with a turbo, but the car felt ‘urgent’ and full of potential.
Preparations continued and on the Sunday before Bathurst we set sail with ‘Lando’ the trusty Land Rover tow car and ‘Growler’ the Lotus safely strapped on the trailer, bound for the first overnight stop in Tamworth.
The first leg was easy sailing and we reached Tamworth without incident, albeit a little tired. The following morning we set off early and after a quick stop at the Big Guitar we headed toward the NSW north west hinterland – toward Merriwa with open countryside, deep blue skies and a short 4 and 1/2 hour hop… or so we thought.
Somewhat inexplicably while heading over the range the road suddenly closed with thick concrete barriers arresting our progress. We detoured back toward Blackville where the road quickly turned to dusty gravel. 50+ kilometres of dusty, washboardy, gravelly dirt. This added about 2 hours onto our trip time, so after a quick lunch in Mudgee (and a quick wash of the now extremely dirty Lotus), we arrived at Mount Panorama tired, very dusty but excited to start the process of registration and unloading into the allocated garage. Registration was a breeze, scrutineering was but a trifle, and we installed ourselves, tools and spares into Garage 23, meeting old friends and new along the way before heading to the Airbnb we had booked in town.
After a bit of relaxing and getting ready we headed back to the track for a couple of lemon squashes and dinner on pit lane. The Simply Sports Cars crew welcomed us and Lotus Cars Queensland sought us out and furnished all the Queenslanders with a little show bag – caps,stickers and long sleeved Tshirts. It certainly made the Queenslanders feel special – thanks Mel and team! The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed good food and even better company on our table.
Mark and Lee from Simply Sports Cars / Lotus Australia regaled us of their experience racing Lotus at Bathurst from the early days of racing a 2005 Exige and developing into an extremely competitive car then onto a V6 Exige with a dedicated team supporting them along the way.
I recall the early days of Simply Sports Cars, just Lee and Stu operating out of a small garage in the back streets of Balmain, Sydney. It’s great to see how SSC has grown but still retains the personalised and track focused service.
The two hosts of the YouTube channel Mighty Car Mods, Marty and Moog (Blair), led us through tales of their Lotus ownership and experience before Jess and I headed back for an early night. Mighty Car Mods @ Bathurst.
The following morning we sought out a caffeine dealer in town and headed to the track. Following a quick look over tyre pressures, brake balance and visual spanner check, I headed to the very covid-safe drivers’ briefing where Mark laid out the rules of engagement. We also learnt there was a somewhat coincidental 111 Loti entered (Lotus manufacturing code for the Elise is a Type 111).
All types of modern Lotus were represented with a healthy mix of race, targa and road cars. Our garage happened to be next to the Gulf livery Exige V6, the SSC pit crew and TV’s own Grant Denyer. I was entered into ‘Sprint 1’ group which was first out on track. I headed out to the track with a calm disposition and a healthy dose of ‘keep it off the walls’ in the back of my mind. The SSC crew martialled us out of the garages and we lined up on pit lane like an upturned box of smarties!
I headed out of pit exit, up mountain straight, through turn 2 and twisting across the very fast and sweeping corners ‘across the top’ before dropping down onto Conrod straight, wide open throttle and rapping through the gears until the big brakes are put to work through the chase and back onto the main straight. It’s a 6.5km circuit and after 20 mins, 13L of fuel (yes, you really do use 30% more with e85) and making my way past a few cars the chequered flag was waved and we headed back into the pits.
Session 1 was complete with no incidents and everyone was excitedly talking of their experiences. 40-50 mins of checking the car to make sure all was good while the Sprint 2 and drive groups had their turn and the SSC boys had re-organised the running order in line with the lap times from the first session.
The order shuffling continued through the day as people found more (or less) confidence in the fast or twisty bits. The morning continued with lap after lap and Growler was inspiring me with more and more confidence as I continued to drop seconds(!) off my lap times.
Directly after the lunch break, I thought I had a good fuel strategy and what I thought was 19L in the tank – turns out my fuel level sensor was a little optimistic and I started to suffer from fuel starve, coughing and spluttering up mountain straight until I sheepishly headed back to the pits for a fuel top-up.
The weather remained kind to us, and with only one driver unfortunately making contact with one of the walls across the top (reports were he was thankfully unhurt) we had little time between runs to check the car over including tyre pressures, downloading data logs and videos, a drink and perhaps quick bite to eat and it was time to don the safety gear and get strapped back into the car ready to be guided back onto pit lane for the next session.
By the end of the day I had managed to reduce my lap times, made new friends, reconnected with old ones, and kept the car and myself safe – could there be a better day!?
At the culmination of six sessions of twenty minutes we started the process to load the Lotus onto the trailer and pack the Land Rover with the boxes of unused tools and spares (including the spare tyre set), saying our goodbyes along the way to new and old friends. We headed back to the Airbnb for the last night and set about finding some light dinner before crashing into a deep sleep.
We started the long trip back to Brisbane in the morning, covering a little over 800km in 10 hours and rolled into Warwick with an overnight stay at The Abbey Boutique Hotel, my favourite place to stay in Warwick – some good steaks and a deep sleep before a quick 2.5 hour hop in the morning back home.
Would I make the pilgrimage to Bathurst again? Absolutely – it’s one of the best tracks in Australia and to have the opportunity to drive it at ‘race’ speed is a must-do – even if you only do it once.